I recently had a Twitter argument with a guy who said he thinks Joburg “lacks authenticity”. I never got to the root of what he meant (Twitter isn’t the place for complex debate), but I’m glad the argument happened because it got me thinking about what “authentic Joburg” is.

My experience last Saturday afternoon, on the last day of the Joburg City Festival, illustrates what “authentic Joburg” means to me.

Ladies Gandhi Square

Weekend travelers in Gandhi Square, posing for a photo as I pulled up in a Joburg Squirrel tuk-tuk. The lady on the right was indecisive about whether to wave or cover her face.

I arrived downtown on Saturday afternoon and went to Cramer’s Coffee. I was expecting a poetry slam, but the schedule had changed and instead there would be a coffee home-brewing workshop, led by coffee superstar Matt Carter.

I was initially disappointed that I would be learning about coffee-brewing and not watching poetry. Joburg poetry is awesome. But guess what? Joburg coffee-brewing is awesome too. I had way more fun than expected. I also drank ten cups of coffee, providing me with the greatest caffeine buzz of all time.

Pouring water vacuum brewer

My favorite part of the home-brewing workshop: Matt’s demonstration of a Hario vacuum-brewing coffeemaker.

Watching pot

Waiting for the water to boil.

Coffee brewing

The vacuum-brewing process is complicated. I’ll stick with my plunger. But this was fun to watch.

As the coffee workshop wound down, a Joburg Squirrel tuk-tuk pulled up. I know Henri, the owner of Oembotu Travel, who managed the tuk-tuk service during the festival. I went out to say hello and take photos.

Henri in tuk-tuk

Henri with passengers Cheve and Sello.

“When are we taking you for a ride?” Henri asked me. I’d been meaning to ride a tuk-tuk all week and never gotten around to it. I had ridden a tuk-tuk in Melville before but never in the inner city.

Thirty minutes later I was on a tuk-tuk. As we passed through Gandhi Square, I spotted my friend Louise waiting for a bus. I asked my driver, Kondolo (sorry if I butchered your name, Kondolo), to stop. Louise hopped in and we took off toward the Fashion District.

Downtown Jozi looks completely different from a tuk-tuk than it does from a car.

Street from tuk-tuk

Saturday afternoon in Jozi.

Taxi turning

Someday I’ll write a post about the relationship between pedestrians and cars on Joburg streets. There is no such thing as pedestrian right-of-way.

The Saturday events at the Fashion Kapitol had ended by the time we arrived. But the trip was worth it, just for the ride.

Tuk-tuk in Fashion District

Our chariot, parked outside the Fashion Kapitol. The Joburg Squirrel tuk-tuks were a special service put in place specifically for the Joburg City Festival. Hopefully the idea catches on and becomes permanent. 

We rode back to Gandhi Square to watch the Jozi Streetball championship — another festival event I’d been trying to catch all week but kept missing. I’m glad I saw the final game.

Soccer game

Street soccer in Joburg’s biggest public square. So cool. The championship game pitted the Penthouse Scorpions against The Other Guys.

Soccer running

I hate to sound like a mom, but shouldn’t these guys be wearing knee pads? Falling on this pavement must hurt.

Blue shoes

The guy in the turquoise shoes was the star of the Penthouse Scorpions. His footwork was amazing.

The Penthouse Scorpions were decisive victors, steamrolling The Other Guys 13-2.

winning team sm

The Penthouse Scorpions show off their new Puma kit and the R5000 ($500) prize money.

After the streetball championship Louise and I walked to the Reef Hotel, hoping to catch a fashion show that was scheduled to happen there. The fashion show was a couple of hours late (this is Africa), but we found something equally exciting: a luxury cupcake exhibition.

Cupcake in box

Behold: The “Aunt Sylvia”, created by Nicola Ontong of Buttercup Baby. “A vanilla-bean cupcake with a luxury lemon-infused mascarpone cream. Complete with Norwegian salmon, black caviar, a French chive, and a skewered lemon wedge for drizzling.”

A cupcake with glitter-dusted salmon, caviar, and a lemon wedge for drizzling?! Yes. Please.

Heather and cupcake

Ready to eat. (Photo: Louise Whitworth)

Heather eating cupcake

There it goes. (Photo: Louise Whitworth)

I loved the Aunt Sylvia, especially the cake and the mascarpone icing. It was indeed the most luxurious cupcake I’ve ever eaten. The salmon and caviar freaked me out a little though. (And I preferred the decadent chocolate cupcake that Nicola gave me to take home.) That said, I would eat the Aunt Sylvia again, simply for the experience.


Buttercup Baby cupcakes sell for R35 ($3.50), presented in individual plastic boxes. Worth the price, especially when you add Nicola’s personality to the mix.

What a great afternoon. I was buzzing when I got home, and not just from all the caffeine and sugar. It was the Jozi authenticity.

Browse all of my Joburg City Festival posts.


  1. Rob Enslin

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I feel like I’ve missed out, the coffee, the street soccer, tuk-tuk… ah well, I’ll have to catch up. I’ll add these to my existing Jozi Bucket List: Critical Mass and Jozi Hustle.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Rob. Get out there and start emptying that bucket.

    • 2summers

      Or filling the bucket? I’m not sure.

  2. geraldgarner

    I just love your writing. Great observer of Joburg life you are!


    Sent from my iPhone

    • 2summers

      Aw, thanks Gerald. That means a lot.

  3. Laura Vercueil

    An enjoyable post as always – but steady on with the coffee consumption for a while 🙂

    • 2summers

      Haha, thanks Laura. You’re right about the coffee. I was not feeling myself the next morning!

  4. victoriabruce

    Brilliant! I hope you don’t mind that I sent your blog to my friend at Joburg’s Darling. She was amazed at all the stuff you’ve found and discovered around the city.

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much Victoria. And no, I don’t mind at all! I’m a big fan of Joburg’s Darling.

  5. Kathryn McCullough

    That’s got me wondering what one would consider authentically Ecuadorian or Cuencanan? Interesting, Ecuador makes some great coffee, but most of it for export. What we get here is a bit less desirable–not that I know a lot about coffee. I do know that the black tea I drink is definitely not authentic to the country. Chocolate would be authentic or bananas, I suppose.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • 2summers

      I think it’s hard to say what is authentic or inauthentic about any place. It’s such a subjective thing. That’s one of the reasons I was so confused by that guy’s comment.

      Chocolate and bananas…yum 🙂

  6. daniellehardman

    I love Joburg and all its amazing restaurants,
    It’s very authentic as it somehow manages to be completely different to the rest of Africa and yet completely different to 1st world countries.

    • 2summers

      Yes! That’s a perfect way to put it. Thanks for the comment.

    • 2summers

      Thanks for the reblog!

  7. psychologistmimi

    Interesting shots. “Aunt sylvia” seems an interesting mix of tastes

    • 2summers

      Thank you. And yes, it certainly is!

  8. Owls

    This is so interesting because when I lived in Buenos Aires my main complaint about the city was that it lacked authenticity. I had heard this complaint from others as well. In the back of my mind I knew it had a great art scene, etc., but Argentina was going through a major economic meltdown at the time and I never got to do the kind of exploring I did in Mexico City or that you are doing in Joburg. What a marvelous job you are doing showing all the positives of this obviously great city, cuz!

    • 2summers

      That’s very interesting, Drury. So what exactly made you feel like the city was inauthentic? Did you not feel safe exploring? Or did you feel like there just wasn’t much to explore because of the economic difficulties? Or did you feel like the people there actually behaved in an inauthentic way?

  9. Owls

    There was an element of neuroses in play because of an entirely unstable economy. People were panic stricken, which leaves an impression. Argentina is also relatively unique Latin American country in that it is essentially a bunch of Europeans who have moved “temporarily” to make some money, but home is still Europe. People would ask me where I was from, and I would say the U.S. and they would say, but no where are you REALLY from. And I’m not talking 1st generation, I’m talking 4th and 5th generation Argentines from Spain, Ireland and later Italy, etc. There seemed to be no sense of national pride at all. And they were scornful of countries with a sense of nationalism, like Mexico. They have a mindset of chronic homesickness, hence dances like the Tango, which is basically a sad footwork expressing a longing for the old country. I saw literally only a handful of “people of color” the whole time I was there…maybe one or two black people from Uruguay and no indigenous population whatsoever. I eventually learned of course that this was because BA was never anything more than a backwater smuggling port, that there was never an established Indian population there, and never an established Spanish colonial presence. 19th century Europeans who made scads of money designed the town in a European style, with French Provincial architecture dating 1870s rather than 16th century, and little to no representation of Spanish Colonial architecture, dating 16th century, which I so adored in Mexico. I always felt like I was in Busch Gardens when I walked the streets there. The economy also made ex-pat life near to impossible. Everything was SO expensive it was really tough for the family of a journalist to really do any kind of good exploring because it just cost too damn much. Plus, I’m sorry, but the food sucked, except for the ice cream. Also, language is a problem. I knew Spanish from Mexico, but had to re-learn it altogether to fit the Argentine concept of Castellno. And they are quite haughty and unforgiving in their delusion about proper Spanish. They would even tell a Spaniard they didn’t speak proper Spanish.

    • 2summers

      Haha! Thanks so much for the detailed reply — that was fascinating. I was hoping your response might shed some light on what the Twitter guy meant when he said Joburg is inauthentic. But Joburg is obviously nothing like what you’ve described Buenos Aires to be (or at least what it was when you were there).


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